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24 April 2006


Kris Tiner

Wow, man... it's like you wrote my biography there...

It's an interesting situation we're in - historically, not only personally - because while the appropriation of popular culture is certainly nothing new (of course even Haydn borrowed! Beethoven borrowed! everybody borrowed!) - it seems like the self-perpetuating pressure from the academic world in determining what constitutes 'A'rt and creativity has forced a greater and greater rift with the popular aesthetic. Now even jazz has its traditionalism. Does academia just lag constantly behind popular taste? What's going to happen to today's pop music?

Ah, now I'm going to have to dig into this a little more...


Does academia just lag constantly behind popular taste?

Pretty much by definition, yes. But that's not necessarily such a horrible thing. It's when academics cross over from "lagging constantly behind" to "circling the wagons" and "enforcing stylistic uniformity" that things start to get ugly.

What's going to happen to today's pop music?

There will continue to be a marked split between the music made for people who don't like to actively seek out new music vs. the people who do, with major labels concentrating almost exclusively on the former.

And us jazz musicians will have to at some point realize that the vast majority of jazz listeners fall into the first camp as well -- they really, really, really don't care about people like us. Most of the people snapping up the bestselling jazz records are fundamentally not interested in music that doesn't already come with overwhelming approval -- in the form of a big media marketing blitz, an existing audience, critical accolades, etc. The whole idea of taking a chance on an artist they happen to stumble across on the internet is completely foreign to them. (I am, of course, speaking in generalities -- if you're reading this blog, then clearly I'm not talking about you.)

The indie rock scene has its flaws, but it has two excellent things going for it. One: people like to find out about the hip new band. They want to know about it before their friends do. It's a status thing. That may seem superficial or callow, but I don't really care... as long as it keeps people willing to try things they haven't tried before, that's a good thing, regardless of the motivation.

Two: people in the indie rock scene like to talk about the music they listen to on the internet. And it's not just cheerleading for their own scene, which is what 95% of jazz talk on the internet is about (including this blog). Cheerleading has its place, obviously, but so does passionate disagreement and debate. If we are too protective and sensitive about our scene (and, let's face it, our own careers) to ever say anything bad about a fellow jazz musician, then why would anyone else be interested in hearing what we have to say? If it's nothing but puppies and rainbows and happy-talk, then what's the point?

So, if you, the independent, creative jazz musician, want to expand your audience, who do you go after? The existing jazz fans, who -- overwhelmingly -- only buy records by established artists and only go to established jazz clubs and festival gigs, and don't really care to spend their time talking about music on the internet? Or indie rock fans, who are constantly trying to one-up their friends by sharing some obscure musical discovery, go out a lot and see a ton of live music (much of it by bands hardly anyone's heard of), and like nothing better than posting snarky comments in someone's blog?

kris tiner

"So, if you, the independent, creative jazz musician, want to expand your audience, who do you go after?"

I've asked myself this question many times... and more and more my experience tells me to forget about the "existing jazz fans"... even if they leave their Miles Davis collections at home and go to your gig - they'll usually sit there comparing your band to every recording they've heard, trying to convince themselves they've made the wrong decision and should have stayed at home.

I think this is one of the main reasons jazz is in the process of becoming classical music. The contemporary jazz composer is at the same crossroads the contemporary classical composer was a century ago: the traditionalists won't have anything to do with you, so do you go after the intellectual "avant-garde" or roll with the popular taste?

I want to tell myself it's not as cut-and-dry as we're making it sound, but I don't know if I'd believe myself if I said that.

Because meanwhile, like you point out, the indie rock kids are having authentic emotional experiences with this music, they're sharing it with their friends, they're dancing to weird jazz, and we're supposed to tell them that they're not being hip enough about it?

You're implying it and I'll just say it: this is a no-brainer. Some of my favorite gigs have taken place in scroungy indie rock clubs. Personally, I'm much more interested in seeing what this kind of hybridization or "in-betweenness" will evolve into than waiting around to see what happens to classicized capital 'J' Jazz...

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